Borrowing heavily from the Whig philosopher John Locke (1632-1704), Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence that all of us have the right to our lives, to our liberty, and to the pursuit of happiness. Less than a century earlier, Locke had offered a similar theme, with a slight difference: He stated that we have a right to our property. Jefferson’s alteration was not a rejection or diminution but rather an enhancement of Locke’s earlier proclamation, by subsuming property rights in the broader category of pursuing happiness.
Private property is critical if individuals are to be free and happy. Locke explained, in his Second Treatise on Government, that the foundation of this essential right lay in the fact that “every man” first and foremost “has a property in his own person,” which “no Body has any right to but himself.” This leads inexorably to a complete rejection of human bondage or any institution that makes one person the resource of another. We are ends in ourselves.
But we must do more than simply be. We must act, in order to gain that which we believe (correctly or incorrectly) is necessary to enhance our lives. We must pursue happiness, turning circumstances, events, and environment to our advantage in the hope of achieving some desired goal. “Whatsoever then [a human] removes out of the state that nature hath provided, and left it in, he hath mixed his labour with, and joyned to it something that is his own,” Locke concluded. By that action an individual creates his property, in the form of real estate, chattel, valuables, keepsakes, money, or investments.